Tape: Vicky, will you pick the first question?
Vicky Kaushal (VK): Sure. I will start with family.
Tape: Your sister Isabel is also joining films. What advice would you give her as learnings from your past mistakes?
Katrina Kaif (KK): Mistakes! Just caught that. So in the beginning, I was trying to make her do everything that I had done. And I was trying to advise her almost similarly to all the routes that I had taken in my life. ‘This is what will work for her to be successful.’ Now she’s been here for about 8 or 9 months. The best thing I can do for her as a sister is to allow her to discover her own voice and who she is rather than trying to make her into a person who I think works for this industry.
VK: Is she shooting for a film right now?
KK: No. She’s just about completed a film.
VK: Wow! Best wishes to her.
KK: Thank you. So now I’m picking a question for you.
Tape: The general consensus seems to be that what works in your favour is your boy-next-door vibe – that you’re approachable, reachable, and attainable. But as you become more successful, how do you continue to be these things?
VK: By not letting success go to your head. Letting it be a sinking feeling rather than a feeling you get comfortable with. I’ve been able to be part of good films and films that have made me reach out to a wider audience. But I still go to cafes and malls and restaurants and do the same things that I used to do a year back. Sometimes you have to realise that all they want is just a couple of seconds from your life. All they ask for is a selfie, all they do is pay a compliment. I’ll just lose myself if I lose all those things, that relatability. It is an asset to me as an actor. You really need to have people around you who know you for who you are, and not the actor. They keep bringing you back to reality. Sometimes, it’s just my mom who sees a sudden change in my walk.
KK: One slap comes!
VK: No! She’ll just be doing sudoku in the newspaper and looking at me. She’ll just say ‘Tu theek hai? Star ban gaya?’ It’s also a lot to do with the people you’re surrounded with. I am the same Vicky Kaushal that I was. I am getting all that love and affection which I’m very grateful for. But this is the time I know that I can’t take things for granted.
KK: That’s the biggest mistake people do. They lose focus on what was working for them.
VK: There’s this beautiful poem called ‘IF’ by Rudyard Kipling –
KK: Yes. Success and failure just the same.
VK: Yes! And there’s this beautiful line – ‘Success and failure as imposters’. If you learn how to treat both of them the same, that’s the trick. I genuinely try to do that. Okay, I’ll pick up a question for you.
Tape: Karan Johar recently declared that it’s the age of the actor and not the star anymore. You’ve been a star for more than a decade. What is your response?
KK: It’s always been the age of the actor. I think there’s no such thing as a generic star. I don’t believe it’s possible for any actor and a public persona to sustain for a long period. They have been able to hold public interest by the craft. Earlier, it was just you and your movies. The audience didn’t see you on platforms. They saw you on Friday in the cinema.
KK: It’s been that way for the majority of the films that I’ve done. Everyone values their time. They come to the cinema to be engaged or entertained or to feel a certain way. Then that means that they’re connecting to something that you’re saying. I don’t really take it all too seriously. I don’t sit here even open a book and say, ‘Now this is the age of the actor. And now people are doing these kind of roles. In the last X years, this is what I’ve done and am I more popular?’ I don’t I don’t bifurcate it like that. It’s not my job to tell you what I am. It’s your job to see me and decide what I do for you. You just can’t take all the responsibility, the credit, the pressure, the acknowledgement, and think that it’s all us who are doing it. So I don’t get too, ‘Who’s this star?’ and ‘Who’s the superstar?’ You said it’s your family that keeps you grounded. I try and come back to my centre, wherever I find it. And I see what is exciting to me at this point. There was a phase recently where I realised I was not happy in a particular genre anymore. There was a space I had done for a long time and, all of a sudden, I had this really overwhelming feeling that the projection required for the genre was not exciting anymore. So the only thing I’m trying to do is look for things that excite me.
KK: After a certain amount of time, you’ve done and seen many of the beats. So now what’s going to challenge you? Right now, it’s the places where I feel that I’m learning something. Either the directors are teaching me or even just capturing it. It’s the people I’m trying to gather around me – do they have something I can learn? Can they teach me something new? So that is how I’ve made this chapter in my life exciting, by trying to see where I ca change things up. If it’s new and interesting for me, then the audience will continue with me on that journey.
VK: How is it for you to gauge that? Because that shift, from knocking on doors to this superstar that you became, how was that shift for you?
KK: It was so gradual. A lot of people in our industry, who are my colleagues, came in around the same time and they came with that one big grand launch film and all the magazines said, ‘This is the next big thing.’ But for me it wasn’t like that. It was one small role in a film, then one small thing, then this, then that. The first time that I noticed people acknowledging me was for a film called Namaste London. Before that, there was some song which was funny but it became popular at that time. It was called ‘Just Chill’.
VK: You talking about your song reminds me of something. I was in an acting institute back in 2009. One of our exercises was to look into the camera and dance to ‘Teri Or’.
KK: And the camera is the girl obviously.
VK: Yeah, so that’s the beauty of the girl. You have to act it out.
KK: This is very funny. I’m just imagining all these poor students and that camera following them. So the guy is obviously portraying Akshay Kumar’s part and the camera is the girl?
VK: No, it was your interpretation. It was also about just being free.
KK: So basically one could say that in a small way I’ve had a fairly large hand in helping you craft your skill.
VK: Very very. I am so thrilled to be sitting with my guru over here.
KK: Let’s see what we shall now play for you.
Tape: Hey Vicky, this is Abhishek. As actors, there’s always one or several genres that really terrify us, that we feel that we can’t do justice to but still want to tick off our bucket list. Keeping in mind the variety of work that you do and continue to do, I want to know if you have that one genre that really scares you. Is your approach that you want to do it and conquer it or do you just stay away?
VK: I’m currently shooting for a horror film. Before this, comedy was the genre that used to scare me because I feel that comedy is that one sur – either you get it right or you’re completely off. But horror is the trickiest genre to play with. When you’re doing an emotional scene or a dramatic scene, you know that you’ve hit an honest note someway down the line. In comedy, also you feel that. But in horror, you’re always play-acting. You’re always imagining – ok this is the ghost. Then there’s gonna be a vfx team that will create it. So this is something I was not prepared for. I’m going to be walking normally and then there’s going to be a sudden sound at the back to which I have to react. It didn’t actually happen, I’ve had to imagine it. And then also imagine the intensity. It will be created later but that intensity might not match the intensity in my head. So all of that is a very tricky space. So I really want to explore it soon.
KK: That sounds like the toughest genre ever.
Tape: In the last two years, you’ve emerged as a mature and confident individual who can hit it out of the park with a role like Babita Kumari in ‘Zero’. What enabled you to reach this place?
KK: I think what life brings to you or throws at you. Pretty much everything that I imagined could not happen, happened. The things you’re trying to guard and protect, they disintegrated or did not work out or went away. It’s that moment where you are faced with everything you feared and you realise that it’s not so bad.
VK: You had over-hyped it in your head?
KK: Yeah. I think that’s what fear is mostly – just an illusion. Unless the actual ghost in your horror film comes in front of you, the thing that you feared is never really that bad. Sometimes you don’t realise it until later and then before you know, you’re in this structure which is not purely just creative, not purely just your work. It’s convoluted and then when that disintegrates, after the unsettling phase, you come back to a place of a feeling of not having so many rules for yourself. With that, came a renewed interest and excitement in what I was doing at my work. I feel that if you’re uncertain when you’re working, it consumes everything of you. There’s very little left for anything and anyone else. And if you don’t really have everything to give, then I think you’re going to be weak in those films. So it’s just trying to find the place where I feel good about myself.
VK: Did that happen when you were playing Babita or before?
KK: For that particular role, (director) Aanand (L Rai) was super. He was always sure he wanted me to do it. He came to me two-and-a-half years before the film started. And at that point I was supposed to do a double role. And when he came back I was like, ‘Aanand sir, you took away half my role.’ So we were at loggerheads for a while. He explained his vision and that it had changed. He’s one of the best directors we have and he was so clear and precise that you just submit to this process.
VK: Surrender completely.
KK: It was a really hard process though because when you’re coming on set and you’re supposed to be a junkie and broken-hearted and really distraught, you’re vulnerable, you’re unhappy and your self esteem is not the highest thing. I didn’t want that to look fake. And you can’t really fake that. It’s tough if you’re going to just completely be out there and switch it on and off. So on set there used to be an hour when Aanand sir and I would just sit and talk. Sometimes, it was related to what we were doing. Sometimes it wasn’t. But he always knew. That’s the brilliance of a good director.
VK: What nerve to touch.
KK: He always knew which road to push me down – gently gently gently and then just let it play out. The only tough thing was the long periods between each shot because of the CGI. So even from a mid to a profile, that could be hours. Out of everything I’ve done recently, that was something that really excited me.
VK: Did it become an outlet for you to express what you had inside? Because that sometimes happens with me and I really juice it out because I just have this garb of playing a character.
KK: I’ve understood it in a different way. Perhaps I had a different way of approaching things earlier, but now I feel that whatever it is, I personalise it in a very real way. So it doesn’t matter if something is sad, how was it sad to me personally? But I also just like the freedom that he wanted, that incorrectness. Because you’re a junkie, you’re allowed to not have to do everything the right way. That was just the most liberating experience. So now I’m gonna pick one of these for you. This one is ‘industry’.
Tape: What have you learnt about things one shouldn’t do from the artistes around you?
VK: Firstly, taking yourself too seriously as a actor, and creating an atmosphere of ‘this is serious actor on set who needs an isolated space’, which actually is a disruption to people around, who are doing their own jobs on set. You also have to take into consideration that it’s not only you who is making this film. It’s a team of 200 people coming together. It could be that light man sitting in that one corner at 20 feet height in that room. I’ve worked with amazing actors, Ranbir (Kapoor), Alia (Bhatt), Sanjay Mishra ji and they’re so good with their lines that I realised the magic happens when you’re just so prepared.
KK: But I wouldn’t think you’re ill-prepared. I wouldn’t think you’ve ever come on set without really knowing your script backwards.
VK: Yeah. But as an actor, what I tend to do is not mug up my lines. I try to mug up the character’s thought process. Why is he saying this line and then that line? So if I know the thought, I will never forget the line. And that helps me improvise also. But sometimes that is not the requirement of the character, or not the space that that film is in. For example, Raazi was not that. For Raazi, you had to say exactly the verse that was written on the script…because anything else would just change the sur of that character.
KK: So we got through. We did not do too badly.